Scott Walker dispatches wife and kids to soften anti-gay tone

Republican responses to the Obergefell v Hodges have ranged from sad to angry. For his part, Scott Walker called for an override of the ruling via a constitutional amendment allowing states to define marriage, seemingly forgetting that he is running for president in 2016, not 2004.

Walker’s position is acceptably anti-gay for the Republican primary, while being borderline disqualifying for the general election — a predicament every GOP candidate will have to work through if they hope to win the White House next year. And Walker’s solution, it seems, is to soften his tone on the issue through surrogates; namely, his wife and kids.

From a Washington Post profile of Tonette Walker, on Walker’s stance concerning same-sex marriage:

In the political world, Walker drew immediate scrutiny for being particularly strident. In their house, Tonette Walker heard immediately about her husband’s response from the couple’s two sons, Matt and Alex, who are taking time off from college to help their father’s campaign. She told them to talk directly to him.

“That was a hard one,” Tonette said, pausing and choosing her words carefully. “Our sons were disappointed. . . . I was torn. I have children who are very passionate [in favor of same-sex marriage], and Scott was on his side very passionate.”

“It’s hard for me because I have a cousin who I love dearly — she is like a sister to me — who is married to a woman, her partner of 18 years,” she said.

She said her son Alex was her cousin’s best man at their wedding last year.

The couple, Shelli Marquardt and Cathy Priem, have vacationed and hosted parties with the Walkers, according to friends.

The day after the Supreme Court ruling, Tonette flew with her husband to Colorado, where he addressed a group of 4,000 conservatives and met with donors. It was widely noted that, despite a perfectly receptive audience, Walker did not repeat his sharp criticism of the Supreme Court decision.

There are a few things worth unpacking here. First, the wedding Tonette is referring to is likely the one her husband referenced when he said in April that he had not attended a same-sex wedding, but had been to a wedding reception for a gay relative. One can only hope that a scheduling conflict or other external impediment was what led Walker to skip a relative’s wedding ceremony — one in which his son was serving as best man. Skipping the ceremony over his deeply held religious objections would seem to be the kind of thing that would earn him a stern talking-to from his sons. Second, the Post‘s juxtaposition between Walker’s tone the day of and the day after the Obergefell ruling suggests to the reader that Tonette and her sons convinced him to reconsider his stridently anti-gay tone overnight — in other words, we don’t really have to worry about a Walker presidency because when push comes to shove, cooler heads in the family prevail.

Scott Walker, via Wikimedia Commons

Scott Walker, via Wikimedia Commons

Asked by the Post what effect his family has on his decision-making, Walker said of their disagreements: “It doesn’t mean I change my position,” but it may lead to “finding a different way of explaining it, so they can appreciate where I am coming from.”

It would be easy to write off the disagreement within the Walker household over marriage equality as a generational or gender divide, but that would be a bit too generous. While support for same-sex marriage is higher among younger voters and women, a majority of men and a plurality of Boomers are still in favor. What’s more, support for same-sex marriage among Republicans has been as high as 40 percent in recent surveys. Put another way, Walker has room to — ahem — walk back his extreme position on same-sex marriage in light of hearing compelling evidence from his family.

Of course, doing so would disqualify Walker from a GOP primary for another reason: It would mean that Walker is not the dominant patriarch that Republican voters demand in a strong leader. Heads of the household are allowed to consider their wives’ opinions, but they certainly aren’t allowed to let their wives “wear the pants,” as it were.

In short, Tonette Walker’s disclosure that she and her sons personally disagree with Scott Walker on marriage equality, but that disagreement has led only to a change in tone — not substance — on the issue, is a carefully-engineered gambit designed to thread a needle between primary and general electorates. Walker gets to be the anti-gay patriarch who appreciates and tolerates the concerns and disagreements of those close to him. He gets to have his anti-gay cake and eat it, too.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • Skye Winspur

    In the long run, you’re right. But next year they can still exploit an electoral system that favors them (state voter ID laws, electoral college). They don’t even need to garner decent support (like 50 % of the voting public). All they need is half, maybe even just 48%, of the popular vote total.

  • Skye Winspur

    Just catching wind of CNN’s “family interview” with the Walkers, shot at Maple Bluff not 10 miles from where I live. Of course the perfect lakeside setting is brought to you by the city of Madison and Dane County, which (despite Scott’s attempts to starve them into oblivion) are still managing to pay for lake cleanup. A more fitting backdrop would be a factory farm in Waukesha County, the family knee-deep in pig shit and wearing hazmat suits.

    This is why I never watch cable news.

  • Sally

    So his kids are r]taking time off college to help Daddy? Since he hasn’t even declared yet, and since the election is still 16 months away, how much time off are they taking? And will they ever go back, or just drop out like dear old dad and make a living off the public dole pretending to be a public servant?

  • Narune

    Republicans have put themselves in a no-win situation by trying to cater exclusively to the Evangelicals; they are alienating the rest of the voting nation and cannot hope to garner decent support with their far-right, borderline fanatical, social views.

  • The_Fixer

    I don’t believe for a minute that Walker is speaking through his family members, or using them to soften his stance.

    Walker has repeatedly proven that if he changes his mind, he’ll just change his mind and claim that’s what he has said all along.

    That’s the “genius of his stupidity”, just plow forth, all the while claiming he is a leader that America needs. In the end, he will do the bidding of his patrons – the Koch brothers and others with big checkbooks. He doesn’t need to explain himself, he’s Scott Walker, boy genius who didn’t need to go to college, he was born with the “right stuff.” For his purposes, he was – craven political ambition.

    For our purposes, not so much.

  • Bill_Perdue

    I guess no one broke the news to you. Maybe you’ve been off planet too long. He’s not running, but his political doppelgangers BS and HRH HRC are.

  • gratuitous

    Well that does it! I will NOT vote for Obama in 2016. Thanks for the information and your concern.

  • If he were president would his wife and kids be making policy and deciding which bills to sing and which laws to enforce? If not, who gives a fuck what they think. Unless they can talk some sense into him (which I doubt) their opinions are irrelevant to my life. It’s nice that he seems to have married a woman who isn’t a complete right-wing bigot, but that doesn’t change who he is.

  • Bill_Perdue

    You’re confused.

    Obama and the Democrats did what Kellogg’s and GM do – they rebranded. That’s not the same as changing policies, which they’ve never done.

    We still don’t have ENDA or a Civil Rights Amendment and we never saw Democrat Bill Clintons DOMA repealed. They rebranded to fool people and it didn’t work.

    rebranded – “Rebranding is the creation of a new look and feel for an established product in order to differentiate the product from its competitors. Rebranding efforts may include a name change, new logo or packaging and updated marketing materials that includes the latest industry buzzwords.”

    Rebranding didn’t stop Democrats from losing the House and then the Senate and it didn’t slow the bleeding from his party. Nor will it slow the political demise of his brothers and sisters the Republicans. Both are parties of losers and both are parties of NO when it comes to LGBT equality in the form of ENDA or a CERA.

    In 2012 Obama got 52.% of the actual and a mere 29.% of the eligible vote. Voter turnout dipped from 62.3 percent of eligible citizens voting in 2008 to an estimated 57.5 in 2012. That figure was also below the 60.4 level of the 2004 election… Despite an increase of over eight million citizens in the eligible population, turnout declined from 131 million voters in 2008 to an estimated 126 million voters in 2012 when all ballots are tallied. Some 93 million eligible citizens did not vote. http://bipartisanpolicy.org/press-release/2012-election-turnout-dips-below-2008-and-2004-levels-number-eligible/

  • Wildeye

    Right, because actually changing your stand on a policy is the same as not changing your stand on a policy and whining you are just misunderstood.

  • Bill_Perdue

    What you say about Republicans is also true for Democrats.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJhQBZ1La0w

    Obama’s rebranding was much better than Walkers. After he opposed marriage equality for a decade or so and torpedoed marriage in California in 2008 and pulled the rug from under ENDA in 200-10, and cost the Democrats the House he went on to rebrand a few moths before the 2012 election.

    Republicans have a lot to learn about rebranding.

  • Kenster999

    Fortunately for him, there appears to be no shortage of bakers who will bake an anti-gay cake for him.

  • Chris

    Well said!

  • Chris

    Walker is a hoe, will use his family as a props, anything for a vote. At least he may get the Log Cabin Republican’s with this.

  • dcinsider

    It’s the best strategy for a Repub since ya gotsta hate them gays in the primary but ya gotsta tolerate them gays in the general.

  • Wildeye

    Once again proving that Republicans value style over substance; it’s never about the policies, it’s always about the marketing.

  • AndyinChicago

    We’ve seen this script before. Megan McCain and the Bush twins are examples of this. It’s this BS that the policies are mediated by the fact that the politician didn’t raise his children to be as hateful as he is. It’s a distraction from the fact that the politicians in question were hateful. End of story.

  • Butch1

    He can choke on his “anti-gay cake” as far as I’m concerned. He’s a two-faced Janus to pretend he’s against gay marriage “IF” he isn’t just to please the Koch brothers.

  • Indigo

    Yeah, well, she’s married to him so there’s that politician’s wife thing going on. She doesn’t want to look like a yes-woman. That might turn off the Wisconsin center-right, currently visible as slightly to the left of Donald Trump.

  • goulo

    One likes to imagine that most voters understand that the person making homophobic decisions & proclamations as president will be the candidate who’s elected, not the less bigoted and more enlightened children and spouse of the candidate who’s elected…

    Especially when Walker explicitly says “It doesn’t mean I change my position.”

  • 2karmanot

    Scott Walker doesn’t have any deeply held religious beliefs. He is a political cockroach who feeds on s**t and turns it into votes among the Morlocks like himself, who barely managed to get a High School diploma and think the Bible is graduate school.

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